By Jonathan Parker
As someone interested in natural health, you may tend to avoid conventional medicine. After all, we tend to focus on lifestyle choices that lean more towards preventative care, as opposed to acute care after a health issue has already arisen.
However, one aspect that sometimes tends to be overlooked is emergency care. Healthy lifestyle choices and natural medicine do not prevent accidents from happening, and preparation for such events should be part of your routine.
So, today we are talking about Activated Charcoal.
What is it?
Activated charcoal (AC) is simply this: physical charcoal that has been altered (either chemically or with oxygen) to increase porous spaces, increasing surface area which results in a massive increase in absorbency.
In fact, amazingly enough, one cubic inch of AC has been shown to have almost the same surface area of a football field!
How does it work?
AC absorbs ingested toxic substances (like re-gifted fruitcake) and prevents it from being absorbed in the stomach, and further down in the gastrointestinal tract. Used in single or multiple dose therapy it increases the rate in which the toxic substance is eliminated from the body, by neutralizing the toxins in its porous spaces and allowing it to be removed as physical waste.
When should I use it?
Like many natural medicinal compounds, it can have multiple uses, from lowering cholesterol to aiding in recovery from a nasty hangover. Emergency situations in which you may find a need for AC include accidental (or purposeful) poisonings and overdose of medications. It is found to be most effective when used within the first hour of toxic ingestion; after this, anything you may have ingested is already being absorbed into your stomach and intestines (gastrointestinal tract).
When should I NOT use it?
Activated carbon is contraindicated (with the ingestion of acidic, alkali or any petroleum based products. When a caustic substance is ingested, it causes damage to the trachea (upper airway) and the lining of your esophagus and stomach lining. AC has a tendency to result in vomiting which will re-introduce any swallowed caustic substance to the throat and possibly airway (bad thing).
While it is amazingly beneficial, there are some things it simply won't work on; for example, it will NOT absorb cyanide, lithium, iron, lead or arsenic. Keep in mind that it bonds to and basically "turns off" any medication that is administered at the same time, including antidotes or important medications for your heart or blood pressure.
Dosing - AC is generally used in doses of 1-2 grams per kilogram (you do know how to convert pounds to kilograms right?) If not, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with it, if for no other reason than that most medications are dosed in the metric system. In most cases, it comes in a granulated powdery form which is then mixed in fluid and drank. It is available in capsules as well, luckily because ingesting a carbon shake is not always a pleasant experience.
For serious poisonings or overdose the best method is through a naso-gastric tube, which is lubricated and inserted through the nose, down to the stomach. This allows for a more direct application. And although it's extremely uncomfortable to insert, it can prevent the activated charcoal from simply being vomited back up, and allows for repeat dosing if necessary.
Studies have shown that due to admission processes and testing, administration of activated charcoal in the hospital setting can be delayed up to an hour, long after peak effectiveness . . . all the more reason to have this compound on hand in your Holistic Emergency Kit.
So accidentally taking grandpa's heart medicine won't wreck your weekend.
Jonathan Parker is an EMT-Paramedic and Preparedness Instructor with a love for emergency medicine, self-sufficiency and homesteading. His goal is to empower people towards a natural and sustainable lifestyle.